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Micro Time-Saving Techniques

By Elizabeth End posted 02-28-2020 14:29


I never once had the time to answer all the questions on an upper-level, handwritten CAS Exam. Initially this bothered me, but it eventually became a non-issue as I realized it was the status quo for me and that not finishing the exam did not necessarily equate to not passing the exam. By the time I earned my FCAS, I felt that I had become pretty good at making smart choices on how to spend my limited time. The methods I’m sharing below might not collectively buy you a lot of time, but they just might buy you enough to pass.

Find the pen that is right for you.

You should not use pencils on the written exams (in my opinion). Pens will allow you to write much quicker. Co-workers recommended the Pentel EnerGel Needle Tip to me, and I thought it was great. It wrote very smoothly, and the size fit my hand well. The ink was nice and dark, so I felt assured that my answers would stand out well when my response was photocopied and distributed for grading.

Never erase. Just cross out.

There is no reason to waste time erasing during the exam. If you made a mistake with your writing, just cross the mistaken section out. It is much faster to scribble out a number or put a giant X through something than to erase. Of course, try to make it as clear as possible exactly what you are crossing out. If there were a few lines I wanted to scratch out, I used to put a box around the section, make a big X or wavy vertical lines through it, and write “Ignore” with an arrow. Then I’d move on. Or sometimes I’d draw a big arrow from part (a) down to part (b), trying to make it clear that the crossed-out section that had been my initial attempt at part (b) was to be bypassed. If it is early on in the problem, you may just want to grab one of your extra answer sheets and start completely fresh. If you do submit your answer sheet with cross-outs on them, don’t worry about the graders judging you on your mistakes. They aren’t going to dock you for starting down the wrong path and then crossing it out when you realize it is the wrong path. They will focus on your uncrossed-out work.

Know when to ditch a problem.

If you are working on a computation-heavy problem that you’ve spent lots of time on and you know it will take a lot more time to finish up when you still have lots of other unanswered questions, maybe just opt to write out what the next steps will be instead of calculating all of them. Going this route ensures that you do not get full credit on this particular question, but there is a good chance you will get decent partial credit and hopefully full credit on the questions that you’ve moved on to answer. If you do have time at the end, you can go back and try to finish up all the calculations. Similarly, if you are stumped by a portion of a question, you can always just skip working on that portion and assume an answer, so that you can move on to the subsequent parts of the question. For example, you might skip the time solving for Beta in part (a), and then you write “Assume Beta = 2.5” (or whatever number you’d like) and use that as an input in your solution for part (b).  And of course, if you are completely stumped by an entire question, put it at the back of the pile and move on to one that you know how to do. You do not want to leave a question blank that you knew how to do because you ran out of time.

Use cursive over printing (only if your cursive is legible of course!).

Generally, people can write faster using cursive than printing out block letters. I used printing for writing out equations and variables, but I would use cursive for everything else. If you don’t write using cursive that frequently, you should probably give some thought as to whether switching to cursive for the exams will be worth the time and awkwardness of changing up your go-to hand-writing style. With whichever method you choose to employ, make sure that you are using that style every day during the lead up to your exam. If you take a vacation and take a week off of studying, don’t take a week off from building up that muscle memory and speed writing. Send some postcards!

Don’t spend time calculating a question’s relative value.

I never bothered with converting what a 2.25 question was worth on a 58.5 question exam. (3.84%) I also didn’t translate that into how many minutes that point value implied I should approximately spend on the question. (9.2 minutes on a 4-hr exam). While I think understanding the relative value of question can be helpful, I’d rather use the time to answer a question and get closer to the pass mark.

Pick a starting point other than Question #1.

If everyone starts the exam at Question 1, then you can kind of get a sense of your pacing compared to the other test-takers in the room. This was a bad thing for me. I’d hear people start flipping pages to move on to the next question while I was only halfway done with it myself, and then I’d start to panic a little. After this happened to me once or twice, I learned to start at the end of the exam and work my way forward or start at a random question in the middle. This way, I knew I should not be in sync with anyone else, and I could better ignore the sound of pages flipping by me. I tended to do the more computational, detailed questions first and then leave the short answer questions for last where my extreme rushing felt slightly less dangerous.

Read the question twice over double-checking your work.

Ideally, I would have had time to read all the questions super thoroughly, answer all the questions, and double-check my work. This was never going to happen for me though, and between understanding the question and double-checking my work, priority had to be given to understanding the question. You need to answer the question that it is being asked. It doesn’t matter how great your answer is if it doesn’t answer the question that was asked. And in fact, if you answer what you assume is the question based off a quick skim and you double-check your response, you have triple-wasted your time. You spent time misreading a question, you spent time answering the wrong question, and you spent time double-checking the answer to the wrong question. So, if you have limited time, use that time to understand what is being asked and to answer it to the best of your abilities. Then move on and trust yourself that you typed the correct numbers in your calculator.

Get into a routine with your memory buttons on your calculator.

Once I started using the memory buttons on my calculator, I wished I had started using them sooner. For a given type of problem, I’d always save the same variable to the same memory button. For instance, in a Black-Scholes problem, the K (strike price) would always be saved in the memory with the 1 button, the r (risk-free rate) would always be saved in the memory with the 2 button, etc. So besides having the Black-Scholes formula memorized, I also had my memory-recall key strokes memorized to solve the problem. Having this routine helped me to feel confident that I calculated the answer correctly on the first time around, and I could skip a double-check.

Change your hand-writing.

Someone told me that it was faster to write the number two without a curlicue in it. I initially wrote my twos with curlicues, so I ended up switching how I wrote them to save time. I’m not sure it really saved any time though, because I then started putting a line through my z’s to make sure my twos and z’s did not get confused with each other!

Do you have any time-saving tips to add? If so, please share!